Tom King’s and Mitch Gerad’s Mister Miracle is one of the most anticipated comics of the year. The 12-issue series, whose first chapter releases next week, follows Scott Free, the eponymous Mister Miracle. Free is a New God, part of a race of powerful beings created by the legendary artist, Jack Kirby. Free is also an escape artist who can find a way out of anything; anything that is, as this story will reveal to us, except death itself.
While any artist who deigns to follow Kirby’s legacy has massive shoes to fill, Gerads and Mister Miracle cover artist Nick Derington seem up to the task. In a Comics Beat exclusive, Derington sat down to reveal the cover to Mister Miracle #4, which features his favorite Kirby-designed character, Big Barda. A powerful warrior, Barda is Scott’s loving partner and his greatest protector. The image depicts Barda in a resolute, battle-ready stance. Derington captures Barda in close quarters, drawing your vision towards her steely eyes and gleaming headdress. It’s a singularly captivating image and exemplifies what makes Derington, one year into his run as interior artist on Doom Patrol with writer Gerard Way, one of the best creatives in DC’s current lineup.
In addition to the reveal, Derington gave the Beat an exclusive look into the intense creative process he went through to create each of the first four covers to Mister Miracle. We examine how King’s scripts inspire drastically different sketches and how one of those thumbnails is ultimately chosen to become the final image you see on comic stands around the world.
Alex Lu: When was the first time you ever laid eyes on a Jack Kirby drawing and what was your initial reaction to it?
Nick Derington: I’m not sure what the first time was but I do remember not understanding it. I grew up in the era of Todd McFarlane and Jim Lee, so seeing Kirby art pop up from time to time felt strange and primitive. It probably wasn’t until discovering the work of Bruce Timm in the mid 90’s that the visual genius of Kirby was decoded for my eyes. I was obsessed from that moment forward.
Lu: What was it about Bruce Timm’s work that made Kirby’s click for you?
Derington: There’s a weird magic to Bruce Timm’s visual language that’s hard to explain. It’s big and exaggerated like Kirby but very clean and appealing like a slick Disney illustration. He convinced my kid brain that a “cartoony” drawing style could be taken seriously and SHOULD be taken seriously.
Lu: In your cover to Mister Miracle #1, you homage the classic Mister Miracle series covers, which often depict Scott Free bound in the chains of a seemingly inescapable death trap. How did you derive the composition of your piece from that well of inspiration and what new ideas did you hope to convey by channeling that bit of history?
Derington: I love the idea that Mister Miracle is a stage performer as well as a grizzled space warrior. An escape artist in escapist literature. It’s a thematically rich concept. In my first Mister Miracle cover we the viewer are in the theater audience and Mister Miracle is about to perform for us. With this being the first issue of a 12 issue series, I wanted to underline the anticipation of a show about to begin. On top of that, displaying a bound god also evokes strong religious imagery. The narrative Tom is telling also plays into these themes in ways I don’t want to give away just yet. I’m also a big Houdini geek, so there is a good bit of that worked into the imagery as well.
Lu: The covers to the first three issues of Mister Miracle give us a strong impression of Scott’s despondency. What’s the creative process that goes into designing a cover for this series? In other words, what are you looking for when you read one of Tom’s scripts or see Mitch’s art and how do you go from that to a final image?
Derington: Tom has a pretty dark tale to tell and I’m eager to get that tone across. On the other end, Kirby’s New Gods characters are some of the boldest and strangest of his career and I was eager to lean on his strengths as a designer. In other word’s I’m just servicing the past and the present as best I can.
Lu: Looking at your process for the third issue cover specifically, it seems like you put a lot of work into crafting a version of Orion’s helmet for reference! I also see Cliff Steele’s head in the background as well. How do these concrete forms help you create a cover like the one to Mister Miracle #3?
Derington: It’s half for reference and half for fun. Building physical stuff can be a pleasant distraction from hunching over a drawing table all day, but it is also helps me immerse myself in the world I’m trying to bring to life. When you draw things you are essentially building those objects in your mind. I love taking that concept one step further—especially when it comes to Kirby objects. Jack Kirby never drew anything exactly the same way twice, so I’m forced interpret them the best I can. I’m dying to build Big Barda’s Mega-Rod soon.
Lu: Compared to your covers featuring Scott, the cover to Mister Miracle #4 screams “resolve.” The bright color palette, strong direct lighting, and Big Barda’s battle-ready stance strike a dramatically different tone than the first three covers do. What inspired you to portray Barda in this way?
Derington: Barda is probably my favorite DC Kirby character visually, so I was just eager to celebrate that. In Tom’s story she acts as Scott’s foundation as he goes through some troubled times. She’s strong for him when he can’t be. Barda is his rock. I hope this new cover gets that strength across.
Lu: What is it about Barda’s design that you find so striking?
Derington: Big Barda is a 7 foot tall woman in shimmering primary red/yellow/blue armor and a giant cape. She looks stately and regal but also ready for battle. Kirby’s personal aesthetic mixed with Medieval and Egyptian ideas. Her helmet is huge and bonkers. It feels sort of Egyptian but it’s got these 2 weird black pieces that hang down in front. Only Jack Kirby had the guts to design a helmet that looks like that and then pull it off. Big Barda has swagger.
Lu: Looking through your process images for issues 2-4, I’m struck by how dramatically different each of the thumbnail pairs are from one another. On the cover WIPs for issue 2, for example, the version you went with shows Scott in mourning while the other version shows Scott and Barda triumphant. The issue 4 WIPs contrast Barda as a warrior we see implied strength in versus Barda as a partner, more directly comforting Mister Miracle. What is it that pushes you towards one of these concepts over another?
Derington: I’m making these covers before the issue is drawn and I only have a raw script to look at, so a lot of what drives the final approach are small pieces of input I’ll get from Tom, Mitch and the editorial team. I absolutely love the collaborative nature of making comics and try to take full advantage of it. Mitch is drawing the alternate covers to these books, so it’s fun to make sure my cover image isn’t too close to something he had in mind. It’s also super fun to brainstorm a dozen ideas and drop them in front of someone else and see what gets them excited. You get trapped in your own mind while working on this stuff so getting outside opinions are really refreshing for me.
Lu: As we see more and more of the covers to Mister Miracle, it seems like you’re developing a distinct visual language for your work on the series. All the covers have this solemn tone and a tendency to go in close on a featured character, allowing their facial expressions and body language to dominate the image. It’s almost claustrophobic. How can we expect to see this pattern to continue or be broken on future covers?
Derington: Strangely enough, the 3 close-up covers weren’t planned at all. That theme emerged totally naturally. I love when an artistic direction like that forms, but I’d also hate to limit myself by forcing that specific visual approach as a rule moving forward. I guess we’ll have to wait and see what emerges as the work continues and the muses do their thing.
Mister Miracle #1 is in stores on August 9th.